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‘Mondays in the Sun’ shines bright

Actor Javier Bardem has made perhaps his finest film in “Mondays in the Sun.” Reviewed by David Elliott.
/ Source: Special to msnbc.com

“Globalization” is a vogue word that covers a lot of changes and cannot morally cover a lot of sins. A symptom of this vast economic derangement is “Mondays in the Sun.”

Written and directed by Spain’s Fernando Leon de Aranoa, it concerns workers who’ve been “let go” (another vogue term) from a Northern Spanish shipworks.

No longer proud shipbuilders, their protest about being jobbed-out by distant Korean (that is, cheaper) workers has won them nothing but passing publicity, and many now float through days of deepening futility.

The wonderful actor Javier Bardem plays Santa, the youngest and most vital of the downcast chums. He’s smart, humorous and a spitfire of indignation (Bardem comes from a leading leftist family). But Santa is too proud to migrate (though he dreams of Australia) or take a security guard job like one pal, and he won’t pay the modest fine for breaking a light during a demonstration.

Most of Santa’s group are aging past good hiring options. One man, before an interview, brushes on hair dye that dribbles down like a stain of shame. Often the pals hang around a little port bar where drink and idle talk fill too much time; the oldest chum becomes an alcoholic wreck, and others are agonized that their wives are the breadwinners.

Best film?
Santa is single, but Bardem doesn’t solo as a star. His charisma is packed behind a fattened gut and a dense beard, and though he can easily rule scenes, as when he charms a woman who hawks imported cheese at a grocery store, he merges into the tight ensemble. Luis Tosar, Enrique Villen, Celso Bugallo, Joaquin Climent and especially Jose Angel Egido (of the dyed hair) are all movingly present.

The men watch their local soccer team from a roof, but without a clear view of the goal post. That pretty well sums up their situation. Although we sense that most will find something, and that Santa might join the grocery lady and leave town, Aranoa doesn’t wrap things up for us — he isn’t pushing cheese.

Bardem told me months ago that he thinks this is his best film. I don’t think it approaches the artistic interest of “Before Night Falls” or his best movies with Pedro Almodovar, but he is right to call this a true, fine and involvingly human piece of work.

David Elliott is the movie critic of The San Diego Union-Tribune. © 2003 by the Copley News Service.